Apocalypto and the Conquest of the Aztecs by the Spanish

Apocalypto and the Conquest of the Aztecs by the Spanish

Friday, June 14, 2024 2:59 am



Folorunso Fatai Adisa

One of the things I enjoyed most when I was freelancing by writing papers for a postgraduate student in the United States was the quality of books and articles provided as resources. The work was in the fields of Anthropology and Sociology. I enjoyed it so much and learned so much that I once told Fisayo I felt like pursuing a Master’s in Anthropology that year. We consistently received As with encouraging comments, except for one B, which Fisayo Ajala can attest to. The recommended books were instructive and intellectually stimulating.

Reading “The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico,” a book by Mexican historian Miguel León-Portilla made me understand “Apocalypto,” a movie directed by Mel Gibson, better.

One evening in 2006, I was returning from the petrol station where I had gone to get a keg of diesel for our “Lister” generator. I saw a group of people riveted to a movie they were watching on a big screen beside the road. They disregarded the potential consequences of watching a movie right beside a busy road. They didn’t care about a car developing brake failure or head-on collisions, among other accidents they were open to experiencing while standing beside the road to watch a movie. I caught some glimpses too, and I saw what they saw, which eventually informed their indifferent attitude towards the hazard of watching a movie beside the road—the magnetic fascination that accompanied watching “Apocalypto” is inexplicable.

“Apocalypto” is a 2006 American epic historical adventure film that’s produced, co-written, and directed by the meritorious Mel Gibson. The film, set in Yucatan, Mexico, portrays the hero’s journey of a young man named Jaguar Paw, who lives in the Mesoamerican rainforest as a hunter. He and his fellow tribesmen are captured by an invading force. After the devastation of their village, they are brought on a perilous journey to a Mayan city for human sacrifice at a time when the Maya civilization is in decline. In the fight of his life, he must escape and return to his family. The movie features a cast of Native American and Indigenous Mexican actors.

“I’m going to peel off his skin and make him watch me wear it.” This spine-chilling threat is delivered by one of the main antagonists, Zero Wolf. His son, Cut Rock, had just been murdered by Jaguar Paw. This validates the saying of Mark Twain, an American writer, when he said, “The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second-best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do, and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.” Zero Wolf’s desire for revenge ultimately marked his end and that of his foot soldiers too.

Grippingly, there are a lot of eviscerations, impalings, clubbings, and beheadings. Hearts are excavated, still throbbing, from slashed-open chests. A man’s face is masticated off by a jaguar. Another’s neck is pierced by darts tipped with frog venom. Perhaps the most frightening is the sight of hundreds of cadavers haphazardly layered in an open space—a provocative and ill-advised excursion into Holocaust imagery by the director, which gifts the viewer with a form of sanguinary sensation.

Mel Gerard Gibson directed the movie. He is an American actor, film director, producer, and screenwriter who is best known for his action hero roles, especially his breakout role as Max Rockatansky in the first three films of the post-apocalyptic action series “Mad Max” and as Martin Riggs in the buddy cop film series “Lethal Weapon.” Gibson seldom uses dialogue as a means of exposition and proves himself to be a capable visual storyteller.

Impressively, he has a captivating way of combining gorgeous imagery and stunning brutality. For instance, as bodies are falling and crashing, bleeding and drowning in “Apocalypto,” the cinematography remains breathtaking and the compositions ravishing, whether they are lush forest backgrounds or fascinating faces in close-up. I think Gibson is a genius. His talent as a fascinating filmmaker is visible in his works like “Lethal Weapon,” “Braveheart,” and “We Were Soldiers,” among other movies he directed.

I watched the movie again last night, and it remains fresh with its weird but entertaining mix of action, bloodletting, bloodcurdling, gory, and gripping tense thriller.

Overall, it is a muscular and kinetic action movie, a drama of rescue and revenge with very little organic relation to its historical setting.

As for the book, it is written to chronicle and immortalize the tragedy and heroism of the defeated Mexicans and Tlatelolcas by the Spanish-led force, and it gives the natives’ account of the conquest in a fresh and revealing manner.


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